50th Anniversary of the Pontine Festival Foundation streamed live from Sermoneta and Ninfa

As you can see from the articles below, the Pontine Festival has been very much part of my life since I first discovered it in 1978 – the year I met my wife Ileana Ghione in Siena .It was she who invited me to her family home in Sabaudia,a stone’s from from Sermoneta, that magical summer over forty years ago! I had of course heard about Sermoneta and the festival that Alberto Lysy with  Menuhin and Szigeti  had founded in the 60’s on the invitation of the Caetani family.Since 1970 on the initiative  of  Lord Hubert Howard,the husband of the Princess Lelia a  Foundation was created that is celebrating its 50th anniversary in this strange Covid year.

For years I have followed the courses and concerts of  some of the most renowned artists of our day.Alicia de Larrocha,Charles Rosen,Elisso Virsaladze,Fou Ts’ong,Sandor Vegh,Bruno Giuranna,Franco Petracchi  are just a few that spring to mind.Many distinguished musicians have been  formed  by the Pontine Festival now in its 56th edition.These include both Fabrizio Von Arx and Robert Prosedda who have  been very much involved  in advising Riccardo Cerocchi,the President since 1978, in maintaining the highest musical standards.A prize has been established in memory of Arch Cerocchi who passed away in 2018 and whose Presidency has passed to the very able hands of his daughter Elisa who is maintaining the family tradition together with her equally dedicated  team headed by Tiziana Cherubini and family.

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I was sorry to hear that the Pontine Festival had been cancelled this year as were so many other events in this year of Covid 19.But I was delighted to see that as people are having to adapt to this new and dramatic situation so the Pontine Festival  has too.Deciding to organise a series of concerts in their most beautiful venues and to share them with their public via streaming.

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The opening concert was for solo cello by Giovanni Gnocchi with some superbly authoritative performances from an artist who I have written about many times (see below).His extraordinary generosity and passionate way of sharing and involving everyone during his summer courses has been one of the most pleasurable discoveries in the past few years.

Following in the footsteps of André Navarra,Paul Tortelier,Rocco Filippini ,Steven Isserlis and  even the young Jaqueline Du Pré his  Bach Suite n.1 BWV1007 and the Kodaly  sonata were truly memorable and even more so when one realises that  this was his first live recital since last february.The extraordinary colours and total conviction that he brought to the works of Sheng and Weir were followed by a  masterly performance of the solo Sonata op 8 by Kodaly.

The glorious sound and his wonderful musicianship and sense of style in the Bach Suite n.1 was a wonderful way to open this Covid 19- 50th Anniversary edition of the Pontine Festival.A single performer in the vast hall of the Castle in Sermoneta playing such noble music seemed to sum up so perfectly what Sermoneta has signified for musicians for the past half century or more!

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Andrea Lucchesini is a new name for the Pontine Festival and I was delighted to be able to hear him on this occasion.Formed by the school of Maria Tipo I remember many years ago Shura Cherkassky being invited to Berio’s house in Empoli ,where he was giving a recital,and  listening to a very young Andrea Lucchesini .I remember him telling me how impressed he was listening to the works of Berio in this young prodigies hands.Andrea has gone on to have a very distinguished career combining also  the directorship of the  renowned Academy in Fiesole and now the  historic Filarmonica Romana.

It was interesting too to hear the piano  that Liszt had given as a present  for the baptism of Roffredo Caetani.I had heard a lot about this unique studio in the middle of the enchanted gardens of Ninfa  where both Charles Rosen and Roberto Prosedda had made recordings. Roberto had recorded all the piano works of the onorary President of the Foundation Goffredo Petrassi whose archives are stored in the Foundation’s  official seat in Latina.

Three works on the programme :the Four Impromptus D899 by Schubert ;Beethoven Sonata op 27 n.2 and Chopin Scherzon,2 op 31.

Some very distinguished performances on a not easy piano.This old Bechstein whilst having a very limited range  did offer in this musicians hands the possibility to create a sense of line without any sudden , or dare I say it, Lisztian bursts of sound but maintaining an architectural line and a sense of balance that came across so convincingly.The first and musically most difficult of the four was played with a very delicate rubato and sense of fantasy that really allowed the music to speak so directly.There was a great control of sound and some very personal inflections that were quite moving.Even the last three  chords were placed with the sensibility of a great artist. The second Impromptu glided from his hands as the water does that surrounds these magic gardens.The tempestuous middle section and ending were played with great control knowing that this particular instrument has only three gears and not the normal five or six of a modern day instrument!The  G flat impromtu was played with aristocratic good taste with very subtle inflections with the accompaniment like in Schubert Lieder sustaining but never intruding on the poetic utterings of Schubert’s seemingly endless melodic invention.The dialogue between the bass and the treble were beautifully outlined as now we were all beginning to enjoy the sound world that can still be created on this noble instrument.

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Here of course one should thank Mauro Buccitti for his work on the piano.A technician but also a magician indeed who I had last seen in discussion with Sokolov in Todi just before the unexpected lockdown. The fourth Impromptu was imbued with cascading notes that glistened with such delicacy whilst the left hand sang out so eloquently.A middle section of passionate involvement but always under the musicianly control of an artist who is shaping and listening so intently.

The Sonata op 27 n.2 (Moonlight) was restored to its rightful place as one of the most original of Beethoven’s Sonatas.Infact both this and its partner op 27 n.1 are quite remarkable – two sonatas as Beethoven himself wrote ‘quasi una fantasia’ .The famous first movement was played as Beethoven writes  in two not four that allows the melodic line to sing so naturally and with such majesty in this Adagio sostenuto opening.The Allegretto was played with just the right amount of elegance with a Trio  kept perfectly in harmony with its surrounds.The Presto agitato was played with great energy and forward movement without trying to force the tone as is so often the case on modern instruments.The overall impression was of a Sonata of great originality and cohesion.

The second Scherzo by Chopin was given a masterly performance with moments of great poetic insight and bursts of brilliance and excitement.An exhilarating performance that just showed how three such well know masterpieces could be reborn in the hands of a true artist who could adapt immediately to his surroundings and offer such eloquent performances that I am sure had all his hidden audience on their feet.

And now what better experience could there be than the sound of a solo flute in the magical atmosphere of the Gardens of Ninfa.The Waltons often used to stop off on their way from Rome to Ischia to get inspiration for their Gardens of La Mortella where they are both  looking on eternally from the rock that surveys their own magic creation.Created as were the gardens of Ninfa  by women from the Americas in love with the wonder that is Italy.Rostropovich  used to call Italy the Museum of the World – how right he was.

What better way to celebrate this magical place than with the Debussy Syrinx with which Mario Caroli opened his recital in a programme that he described as a musical bouquet -It was a  pity he was tied to the score though .Like Isadora Duncan it would have been lovely to experience his  comuning with nature wandering through this wonderland with his beautiful foulard flowing in the wind as  the  sounds of his flute fill the air with such intoxicating magic.As Debussy quotes from Baudelaire : ‘Le sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir’

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